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A Week without Technology

Telramen op de bank in de klas / Counting-frames in classroom

Essential classroom technology

A few weeks ago, I wrote:

I would also be interested in establishing a school learning community that values face-to-face dialogue, debate, and experiential, first-hand learning for students and teachers alike. If we are to ask that our students are committed to the present moment of their current learning, why shouldn’t we expect the same of one another?

Blog Post as Essay: Cell Phones in the Classroom
Wederopbouw: provisorisch schoollokaal / Improvised classroom, shortly after the War

How much has changed since this photo was taken?

After writing that post, I thought about the possibilities of setting up this ultimately face-to-face school environment that would not only challenge those of us who rely on futuristic technologies – iPhones, laptops, projectors, etc – to rethink our jobs as facilitators of classroom learning, but also give those who would ban cellphones in their classroom a greater context to appreciate the current, rampant rate of technological progress.

I thought that a week without technology – without email, photocopiers, announcements and overhead projectors – would be a bounding step forward in establishing a truly local school community, and a rallying point for digital natives, and immigrants.

  • Why not turn such a week into a fundraiser, a way to promote awareness about our dependence on technology, and question our relationship with our digital (as well as other) tools?

As he has a habit of doing, Ira Socol is a few steps ahead of me:

Let’s try a week without clocks and bells. Few technologies interrupt the learning process more, and limit learning to “the shallows” more, than the school timetable. And few things belittle students more – or expose our hypocrisies more – than bells. They are not just Pavlovian, they are unfairly so. Kids are “late” when the bell rings, but teachers often insist that they get dismissal power, meaning bells are only significant when they can punish students. So take a week. Cancel the start time and the finish time. Abandon the class schedule. Let students pick which of their classrooms they want to be in – and when. Let kids spend a day working on one thing, or five minutes, whichever they need and want. Let them eat when they want, use the toilet when they want, debate Shakespeare when they want. See what happens. Our school schedule was invented by Henry Barnard to train kids for industrial shift work. Is that what are schools are still designed to do?
Speelplaats van een Rooms-Katholieke school / Schoolyard of a Roman Catholic school

How it could be.

Let’s try a week without desks and chairs. Pile them all up in the corner and ignore them. Let kids bring what they need to make themselves comfortable. As I asked one school district: “Do any of you have furniture like this at home?” The chair and desk, that contribution of William Alcott in the 1830s, might have made sense then. But we have central heating now, and carpets are available everywhere. And pillows are cheap at Ikea – so are lapdesks. And kids would rather be comfortable. And… teachers might find themselves worrying a whole lot less about controlling how kids sit in their chairs. Let’s try a week without books and paper. We know how many of our kids struggle with reading and writing – the physical acts. The word decoding, the holding of the pen, the traditional keyboarding – these things are our primary creators of disability. So let’s get “Socratic” for a week. Lets get fully digital (adaptable text, speech recognition) or simply verbal/audio. Let’s talk and listen. Let’s think out loud and work on auditory memory. We might see a whole new set of student skills rise to the top with those “Gutenberg technologies” stripped from our kids’ lives. We might see a whole new kind of learning.